Writing Assignment #1
Summary of Miner’s “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”
This paper is a summary of Horace Miner’s paper “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”. It talks about how every culture has a set of rituals they practice religiously, and in particular, the unusual rituals and beliefs of the Nacirema people from an outsider’s perspective.
Writing Assignment #1
January 25, 2015
Summary of Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual among the Nacirema
Every society, tribe, or group of people have certain rituals and beliefs that we practice every day. In Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”, he tells us about this particular tribes unusual rituals, therefore giving us an insight into how different human behaviors can be. It gives the readers a look into a culture that many do not understand.
Miner tells us that the Nacirema are “a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles.” They have a “highly developed market economy”, but appearance seems to take command of their peoples’ priorities. The fundamental belief of the Nacirema people is that “the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease”, so they do all these unusual rituals to try to keep their bodies healthy and good-looking.
It all begins in a room called the shrine, dedicated to the rituals the Nacirema use to maintain their looks and health. There is box with many charms and potions, and beneath that a font where each person performs the “brief rite of ablution” (washing the hands or body). There is also a “mouth-rite”, in which a person inserts a bundle of hog hairs in the mouth with magical powder, and moves the bundle in many different gestures inside the mouth.
In order to stay in tip-top shape, the members of the Nacirema see medicine-men and a holy-mouth-man. These men check their bodies and mouths respectively to make sure they are healthy and in working order. The medicine men also have a temple in every community called and orlatipso, to treat very ill patients.
It took me a little while into reading to discover that what Miner was describing was not so unusual at all. “Nacirema” is “American” spelled backwards. Once I figured that out, it was a very fun little read. It tells you all about the daily routines of Americans, but from an aspect of someone who isn’t familiar with them.
The shrines in the houses are the bathrooms. Miner talks about the medicine cabinets that hold all of our medicines and creams and ointments that we buy expecting to be a miracle cure, and forget about when it doesn’t work. The font is the faucet we use to wash our faces and hands, as well as brush our teeth with the “small bundle of hog hairs and certain magical powders”, or toothbrush and toothpaste as we call it. The Nacirema’s medicine-men and holy-mouth-men? Doctors and dentists as we know them. The latipso? Hospital without the H spelled backwards!
I think Miner was trying to use humor to characterize American Culture. We focus so much of our energy on how we look, what we weigh, what we drive and wear, that we forget what is really important in life sometimes. Americans are very ethnocentric. We believe that our culture and way of life is superior to others. We spend more money on gym memberships and tanning packages than our cars and houses sometimes. In our country it is all about status quo, what you have material-wise and how you look and are perceived. He showed us how even an advanced culture like the American one can and is seen as inhumane by other cultures.
Miner, H. (n.d.). Body Ritual Among The Nacirema. American Anthropologist.
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